Shuffle Festival 2014: A Retrospective

It’s twelve noon in a cemetery in Mile End and a warm sense of accomplishment fills the baking hot air. The night before, Shuffle Festival 2014 came to another triumphant conclusion, announcing the winners of their short film prize (‘Disappear’, ’Back Issue’ and ‘George Town’ – check them out!) before closing with a screening of black comedy western ‘Dead Man’. Sat opposite me are two of the (many) masterminds behind the operation – Grace Boyle and Kate MacTiernan – both excited to reveal how this year’s instalment of Shuffle went.

2014 is confirmed as the busiest Shuffle yet. “The first night we fed 600 people for free, which was pretty punk! We got support from the Canary Wharf group, had a Cordon Bleu chef, mackerel caught that day, a big hog roast, lamb, chicken and vegetarian options. Both films were sold out. We had twelve accordionists down the street so you could find your way down from the tube station. On the first night there were at least 1000 people through and around 7000 over the full five days” beams Grace.

Originally billed as ‘Danny Boyle’s inaugural film festival in an abandoned psychiatric hospital’, Shuffle has gone from strength to strength and in its third rendition, found a new home in Mile End Cemetery Park. This year’s programme boasted an impressive array of films, music and comedy but also more eclectic activities from bat walks to science camps, trapeze artists to a spot of life (and death) drawing. Danny Boyle can still be found casually walking around and partaking in the odd Q&A but the festival has managed to build an impressive identity beyond its initial celebrity endorsement.

One of the standout features of Shuffle is the cause it’s motivated by. Grace elaborates: “We think pop-up’s are a bit abhorrent, because they’re terribly smug, arrive somewhere, then leave and don’t knit into the community. Making something interesting out of a place that’s not being used is a lovely idea but they don’t leave anything behind. The St Clements site will be the first community land trust and we’re hopefully going to put some money into restoring the cemetery park lodge and into refurbishing the front building of St Clements as a community centre.” This emphasis on community and direct action mixed with an active attempt to work alongside and involve the local community (£5 tickets for students and residents from the local postcode) instil Shuffle with a sense of heart and soul – something that is so often lacking from creative ventures in East London.

The other standout feature of Shuffle is of course its unique cinema experience. Just when you think it couldn’t get any better than watching ‘Sunshine’ in an abandoned mental asylum complete with Danny Boyle + Professor Brian Cox Q&A (last year) – Shuffle 2014 tops it with ‘28 Days Later’ screened in a cemetery (DB Q&A included!) Kate MacTiernan is the creative mastermind behind this part of the Shuffle experience and explains how the films were chosen: “This year it was about themes, (in relation to the site) conversations between us (the organisers) and also films that I have seen that have had a really big impact on me.” This year, cinematic giants such as ‘Spirited Away’ and previously mentioned ‘28 Days Later’ were joined by lesser known masterpieces such as ‘The Selfish Giant’ and ‘Ratcatcher’. Film selection combined with viewing experience is what makes the festival so unique. There’s something truly memorable about watching a film, sprawled out in a cemetery in Mile End, the odd tendril of cigarette smoke meandering across the projector light whilst Danny Boyle reveals how he got Westminster Bridge so quiet or Clio Bernard explains the importance of Bradford in her poignant films.

The poetic way in which Kate describes film, perfectly sums up Shuffle: “Film is just the modern form of storytelling. This is what we’ve always done – sat in big spaces together at night and told stories when everything is finished.”

Shuffle Festival is a storytelling experience like no other. Be sure not to miss it next year.

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